IFJ Mission Identifies Key Challenges for Sri Lanka's Media after War's End

The

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today released the report of a

press freedom mission to Sri

Lanka, identifying key challenges for the

country's journalists and media at the end of 25 years of internal conflict and

the inauguration of a new phase of political contests.

Media

stakeholders who met with the mission during its visit to Sri Lanka in November identified

the current political circumstances as embodying numerous threats and

opportunities.

The entry of

a former army commander into the race for the Presidency next year has thrown

the contest open and provided an opportunity for local media to create more

space for itself. At the same time, the heightened intensity of the political

contest may also engender threats.

Certain new

flashpoints have emerged in the always fraught relationship between the media

and political power-holders. Any form of reckoning with the tactical decisions

made during the final stages of the war earlier this year and the humanitarian

consequences is actively discouraged. Despite this element of coercion on the media,

this issue has been coming up in the campaign debates between rival candidates

for the presidency.

The

opposition's common candidate for the presidency, General Sarath Fonseka,

has made special mention about the abuses suffered by the media during the

years of war, especially in its final stages. If elected, he has committed

himself to addressing these abuses in a spirit of candour and reconciliation.

The media community is encouraged by these commitments, though certain among

them recall his own far from spotless record, especially when it involved media

criticism of his war-time role as Sri Lanka's army commander.

The actual

record of addressing past abuses has been dismal, with little progress recorded

in the investigation of the most conspicuous cases, including the murder of

Lasantha Wickramatunge in January 2009.

The report

documents the current stage of the investigations into this and other cases. It

inquires into the conviction of J.S. Tissainayagam on terrorism charges and

examines the credibility of the prosecution case, especially in view of the

unconditional discharge of two of his co-accused.

In a climate

of intolerance, several journalists are being induced to give up efforts to

obtain redress for violations of their rights. The mission observed that

journalists are being required to withdraw applications under the fundamental

rights provisions of the Constitution merely to be set at liberty after

prolonged periods in wrongful detention. In the judgment of the mission, this

is a grossly unequal exchange.

Recent moves

by the Government to revive a coercive form of media regulation, embodied in a

1973 legislation, have been opposed by journalists and publishers, who have

renewed their commitment to a code of self-regulation.

The mission

report concludes with recommendations that would set the relationship between

the media and the Sri Lankan state on a different course. These include the

return of all exiled Sri Lankan journalists, the unfettering of state media

institutions so that they are able freely and fairly to report on the ongoing

election campaign, the conversion of these institutions into a public service

trust, the enactment of right to information legislation, and the addressing of

all past abuses in a spirit of truth and reconciliation.

 

The mission

report is also available in Sinhala and Tamil languages.

Apart from

the IFJ, the mission team included representatives of the International Press

Institute, Vienna (IPI) and International Media Support, Copenhagen (IMS).

 

The

financial support of the European Commission, IMS and UNESCO is acknowledged with thanks.

For more information, contact:

Sukumar

Muralidharan
+91-9810-518-009

Sukumar.md@gmail.com

The IFJ represents

over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries